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Animals Marco Polo Saw: An Adventure on the Silk Road Review by Shauna Rumbaugh

Sandra Markle
Chronicle Books LLC
680 Second Street
San Francisco, CA 94107

Like many other children, my kids love animals. When I ask them to select a children's book to read or a movie to watch, they usually reach for something that features animals. While gathering resources for a study on explorers with my older daughter, I was pleased to learn I would be receiving Sandra Markle's Animals Marco Polo Saw: An Adventure on the Silk Road. I knew that learning about animals while studying history would appeal to her.

Animals Marco Polo Saw is part of Chronicle Books' Explorers series. These books "take young readers back in time to share explorations that had a major impact on people's view of the world." This 48-page hardback picture book with jacket is written for children ages 7 to 10, and it tells the story of Marco Polo and his family's travels from Italy through Eastern Europe and into Asia in the 1200s. Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini vividly illustrates the journey with full-color mixed media scenes and maps.

The book is divided into one- or two-page sections with titles such as "The First Travel Guide," "On a Mission for Kublai Khan," "Follow the Silk Road," and "Visiting the Great Khan." Markle uses a conversational style that is enjoyable to read and easy for young readers to understand. She tells about the early journeys of Marco Polo's father and uncle as well as Marco's travels with them beginning when he was 17. The explorers experienced many new sights, but they also faced war, attacks by bandits, illness, and death.

Included with the chronological, biographical information about Marco Polo are short, illustrated sidebars featuring different animals that he specifically described to others when telling about his travels or that he likely saw along the way. The author explains the significance of the featured animals where possible, such as the important role that horses and camels played in making Marco Polo's long journeys possible. Silk worms, snow leopards, and other animals are discussed primarily in the context of trading. The animal connections help to bring that time period to life and explain to students how some animals were introduced to regions far from where they originated. A few of the animal descriptions provide general-interest facts but don't directly relate to Marco Polo, such as the sidebar describing how Marco may have seen gray whales while he journeyed at sea. I thought these few animal stories seemed somewhat contrived and didn't tie in with Marco Polo's story naturally, but my daughter didn't mind at all and appreciated the variety of animals featured.

A Map of Marco Polo's Travels shows the journeys that the Polo family took and marks the many stops they made along the way, sometimes for many years. A Glossary with pronunciation guide is included in the book, as is an Index and a For More Information resource page that cites related books, videos, and web sites. Reading the story piqued my daughter's interest in the world's first travel guide, The Travels of Marco Polo, so we appreciated the suggestions for additional resources.

Animals Marco Polo Saw would make a good supplement for early- to mid-elementary studies about explorers during the medieval time period. The book also touches on geography, social studies, religion, foreign cultures, and, to a lesser extent, science. It is longer than most picture books and could be assigned to students several pages at a time and used with related activities, but we read and discussed the book in one sitting.

A Teacher's Guide geared toward grades two to five can be downloaded from the website ( It includes several enrichment activities for Animals Marco Polo Saw in the areas of Language Arts, Science, Geography, and Social Studies. Though developed for classroom use, several of the activities could easily be adapted for a homeschool setting.

Other titles in the Explorers series include Animals Charles Darwin Saw: An Around-the-World Adventure, Animals Christopher Columbus Saw: An Adventure in the New World, and Animals Robert Scott Saw: An Adventure in Antarctica. Animals Marco Polo Saw retails for $16.99. I enjoyed the book and recommend it, and I plan to get several of the other books in this series.

Product review by Shauna Rumbaugh, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July 2009